In 1849 hundreds of thousands were California bound with dreams of gold dancing before their eyes. On their way through Colorado, several parties panned for gold and found small amounts, but nothing to rival the impressive reports from California and the discoveries weren’t reported at that time. Rumors persisted though and by 1858 the first substantial amount of gold was found. This kicked off the Pike’s Peak Gold rush.
In 1871, the Denver & Rio Grande Railway was begun to serve this area. Durango was founded in 1880 by the D&RG, with construction of the Silverton branch to the mining town of Silverton being completed in July of 1882. The D&RG was a narrow gauge railway. The use of a narrow gauge was cheaper, but also allowed for a tighter turning radius which was important in the mountains.
The branch struggled following the silver panic of 1893. The business climate for the branch worsened as Silverton was linked to the highway system and mining ventures continued to decline. The Silverton branch was already known for its beauty and after World War II, the branch benefited from increased domestic tourism, as well as being featured in Hollywood films.
Today, the branch continues, after changing hands a couple times, as the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and serves as a tourism line. I took a day off from work so that we could play tourists and enjoy the trip.
While the D&SNGR owns some narrow gauge diesel locomotives, these are used in the yard. The trains which run the 45 mile branch are all vintage steam locomotives pulling historic rolling stock.
Given that the weather has recently turned colder, we chose seats in an enclosed coach.
The cooler weather has brought the start of fall though, along with the change of colors.
Many of the other passengers in this coach were on an excursion as Road Scholars. They were a friendly, great bunch of people and we enjoyed their company. Kathryn also made a new friend, Kathryn. Like our Kathryn, she and her twin brother Christian are homeschooled and are enjoying a vacation in Colorado with their family.
The 45 mile journey takes 3 1/2 hours and passes through some truly beautiful country.
Once we reached Silverton, we had two hours to enjoy this small community before our return trip. Silverton is the county seat of, and the only incorporated town, in San Juan County. With the end of active mining, the population has shrunk to 531 people. After grabbing a quick bite to eat, we wandered through town.
One shop I had read about, and was anxious for Mary to visit is Weathertop Wovens.
We found her a new jacket that looks great on her, and the fact that it is completely handmade from thread to garment just makes it that much more special and unique.
While walking through the town, we noticed an interesting bit of advertising. Several of the businesses in town use vintage vehicles to attract attention. They certainly got mine.
Many of the people from the northbound trip chose to take a bus back to Durango. This does cut a couple hours from the trip, so I can understand why many would choose this. But I really enjoy trains, so we returned the way we came. As the weather had warmed up, and the train was not crowded, I spent quite a bit of time in an open air coach.
This was even better than the enclosed coach, allowing for a much more direct connection with nature’s beauty.
Yet another great day.